As the Kerala government gears up to comply with the Supreme Court directive to demolish apartments near Kochi for violation of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) norms, the fate of 350-odd families hangs in the balance.
After the apex court’s ultimatum last week that four apartment complexes at Maradu municipality near Kochi have to be demolished by September 20, Chief Secretary Tom Jose on Monday visited the premises. The government has ordered the municipal body to evict flat owners and rehabilitate them before the structures are razed.
On Monday, the chief secretary was greeted with agitated flat owners. While some raised slogans, others pleaded with him not to throw them out. Jose said the state government is bound to implement the court order.
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Maradu municipality chairperson T H Nadeera said the government has directed that the families be evicted and rehabilitated. “We cannot initiate these steps on our own. The cost of demolition would come to Rs 30 crore as per estimates,’’ she said.
The occupants said they spent their hard-earned money on these flats. For many senior citizens, a protracted legal battle is not an option.
Among the flat owners are film directors Major Ravi and Blessy and actor Soubin Shahir. Ravi told the media, “We residents are being punished without being heard. We have been paying all taxes, yet we have been punished.’’
Shahir said the owners have not received any notice from local authorities. “I bought the flat after consulting several people. There was no issue when I bought it.”
According to a flat owner Rasheed Usman, about 90 per cent of occupants do not have a second house. “Where will we go? Most owners bought the flats after investing their entire savings.” Usman said most owners spent between Rs 60 lakh and Rs 80 lakh to buy and furnish the flats, which currently have a price tag of at least Rs 1.15 crore. “Till last month, we paid all taxes. The pain of being dubbed illegal occupants in a day is terrible,’’ he said.
Ajay Peter, another flat owner, said, “If we are forced to leave, there will be suicides. The court order has left us angry, desperate and sad. There are people undergoing dialysis every week. Who will take care of them?’’
“After living here for eight years, we are being thrown out all of a sudden. We have nowhere to go. We are law-abiding citizens and we should not be punished for mistakes of some officials,” said another resident.
Sunila Siby, former municipal chairperson and a councillor of Maradu municipality, said people’s representatives cannot neglect the concern of residents. “The council would decide on the next step on Tuesday.’’
Sources at the local self-government department said the residents were not heard by the Supreme Court because they never impleaded in the case. “It is true that the three-member expert committee set up by the apex court did not hear the residents. The committee did not hear the flat owners as they were not a respondent in the case. The owners could have impleaded in the special leave petition moved by the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority,’’ said an official.